We talked to Kate Byrne of SOCAP Global on how to unlock the power of markets for impact and this is what she had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Kate Byrne: Appreciate your asking. Thankfully we are all healthy, though I did get my first COVID test this week (negative, phew!). Our family lives throughout the US, so the trickiest times for most, I’m sure, have been the holidays. We will have a subset together. Older generations have been getting more tech-savvy as they master the ins and outs of Zoom. It’s been an interesting time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined SOCAP Global.
Kate Byrne: I got my start in the advertising industry and moved over to publishing where I held senior roles at Inc, Businessweek, The Industry Standard. When I was the leader at Fast Company, we created the Social Capitalist Awards in 2004 – I was hooked. The idea of stakeholder capitalism with business and money being forces for good was a no-brainer to me. I believed that we needed a common language, definitions of value, and a great deal of collaboration to become business as usual. As a result, I wanted a cross-sector experience. I worked in leadership roles at The George Lucas Education Foundation and at The Tides Foundation, where I got experience in the early days of impact investing. From an early age, I’ve been active in empowering women, elevating their voices, and supporting social entrepreneurs and conscious business leaders. SOCAP Global/Intentional Media’s Founder, Bob Caruso, reached out to me at the suggestion of Conscious Company Media’s co-Founder, Meghan French-Dunbar, for whom I had been an advisor. My experience was a direct fit for each of the products in the SOCAPGlobal portfolio. The rest, as they say, is history.
How does SOCAP Global innovate?
Kate Byrne: Believers in the crowd’s wisdom, we build our programs and content for the community with our community’s help. We regularly tap our audience and the ecosystem overall to learn what’s top of mind. We then step back and take a topline view, which reveals where the gaps are. Here is where we then focus our attention. We’ll try new formats, new threads of conversation, new products, all in service of supporting our community of change-makers.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Kate Byrne: SOCAP Global historically has been primarily an in-person events company. Sure we have podcasts, newsletters, and a site that was more of a landing page for event registration, but the primary revenue generator was our event engine. When I joined the company last January, increasing our digital presence and footprint was on the roadmap, ironically for 2020. While we had been planning for this to happen, it was on a more gradual timeline.
COVID 19 changed all of this, causing us to move forward and more aggressively than previously calendared. We pivoted our flagship event, known as the largest in-person event in the impact space, in 5 months and successfully pulled off a terrific virtual gathering. The virtual theater enabled us to provide greater access to those who had previously been able not to join, get speakers who would otherwise have been unavailable, and broaden the conversation to a much greater global audience. We had to make hard decisions at a much faster pace, decisions that had been lingering since before I joined the company. The result is that we hit our baseline goals, surpassed our sponsor revenue goal, and are in a much more solid position for the year ahead. We’re giving ourselves greater license in the reimagination of the offerings and embracing the next generation of ourselves and our role in the ecosystem.
The key to this next chapter is our stepping up and playing our role in helping put an end to systemic racism. As one of the largest players in the field, we are among the leaders in bringing this conversation to light.
We also want to be sure to be getting resources into the hands of the social entrepreneurs who are exponentially important these days. As such, we are expanding and deepening our social entrepreneur program.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Kate Byrne: Yes, we had to make quite a few. As you can imagine pivoting from in-person to virtual events had a huge impact on our business model. We had to discontinue products that were no longer viable – which while seemingly should be easy, is much less so when there are staffing changes as a result. Lessons learned:
1. Focus, focus, focus on your core business
2. Make changes faster when the answer is obvious what needs to be done
3. Be clear on sequencing – the difference between want and need and timing
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and SOCAP Global in the future?
Kate Byrne: A fourth-generation Bay Area native, I’ve been doing yoga and meditation since I was young. I joke that I was born with a journal in my hand. Add to this kayaking and daily walks/hikes with my dog that starts and ends my day, and I do my best to counter stress. It still sneaks through, though, so I will watch a movie and eat popcorn curled up on the couch with my hubby and kids. SOCAP Global is known for its authenticity and pioneering spirit. I cannot think of better attributes to take us into the future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Kate Byrne: The notion of competition is interesting when looking at the impact space as the field is one that celebrates the open. The unique aspect of SOCAP Global is that we provide a wide tent that encompasses a great deal of the social impact ecosystem. As such, we collaborate with our “frenemies” and “competition,” as exhibited by what was mentioned above. We share our virtual event platform with 15 key ecosystems to support the space and keep it healthy, as well as have our audiences get acquainted and perhaps begin to work together in new ways to help solve the world’s largest problems.
Having been a pioneer in the space since 2008, and with this in mind, I see our “competition” being brands from more traditional media outlets that don’t understand this model and “community norm” as it were. The risk is greenwashing to address the issue as a marketing opportunity rather than providing tools to get the job done. Then again, given the size and number of crises in the world today, the more groups working on them, the better.
As we look to the future, we are taking the next step in our evolution, from the amplifier to conduit and solution provider. Our goal is to ensure we provide access for our community to the type of capital(reputational, social, financial, intellectual, and political) that they need, given the stage, they find themselves in. We will equip the ecosystem with the tools needed to take action. Enough talk, time to adapt, execute, and operationalize.
Your final thoughts?
Kate Byrne: While difficult and chaotic, I believe this year ironically will prove to have given many of us 2020 clarity; on what matters most, the need for radical collaboration and the extraordinary humility and curiosity to engage together, egos aside in service of tackling the world’s greatest problems.
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